How One Moment of Distracted Driving Delayed Sierra by Four Months

By Jade Waddy

Nearly three years ago, Sierra Tobia, then 20 years old, was driving to College Station to return to work after a weekend with friends in League City. Although she left on time, morning traffic in the area began piling up on the two-lane road she was traveling along. Moments later, her journey was suddenly cut short.

“I don’t remember much from the collision, but I believe I was distracted by my radio and when I looked up, I swerved into oncoming traffic in the opposite lane to try to avoid hitting someone riding their bicycle,” Tobia said.

The force of the impact also resulted in her seatbelt coming undone and left her unconscious. First responders called Memorial Hermann Life Flight® to transport Tobia to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

The collision resulted in extensive injuries, including blunt force trauma to her frontal lobe, a cracked skull, broken right arm, broken left femur and broken C2 vertebrae accompanied with several hairline fractures along her neck. She experienced a second traumatic brain injury known as diffuse axonal injury, which is viewed as the adult equivalent of shaken baby syndrome. She remained in a coma for three weeks as doctors waited for the small bleeding in her brain to subside.

Combating an Epidemic of Distracted Driving

Drivers are more distracted than ever behind the wheel and distracted driving has become a leading cause of motor vehicle collisions in Harris County and surrounding areas. Harris County saw a 62 percent increase in deadly distracted driving collisions from 2016 to 2017, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

As a leading provider of trauma care in the Greater Houston area and home to one of two Level I trauma centers in Harris County, Memorial Hermann is dedicated to making Houston and surrounding areas safer and healthier.

As part of the drive to stop needless tragedies, Memorial Hermann Life Flight® is working to motivate the entire community to reduce distractions and keep their eyes on the road by supporting  targeted prevention initiatives.

 Live Your DREAMS is a program that teaches high school students  about safe driving behaviors.

SAFE 2 SAVE is a free mobile app that rewards drivers for not using their cellphones when they are behind the wheel. The app rewards users with points for refraining from using their mobile devices in the car. For every minute a driver does not touch his or her phone while driving, he or she will receive points that can be redeemed at select Houston area businesses.

One Moment, Changes Everything

Upon landing at Memorial Hermann-TMC, Tobia was immediately brought into the trauma operating room.

“When I first met Sierra following her collision she had a broken right upper arm and a broken left thigh bone, as well as other injuries,” said Dr. Mark Prasarn, orthopedic trauma surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann-TMC. “We elected to fix both broken bones surgically to optimize her healing and allow early mobilization with both the injured leg and arm.”

Dr. Prasarn repaired her broken humerus and stabilized it with a metal plate and screws. Without making a large incision, Dr. Prasarn was able to fixate her broken femur in her leg with a titanium rod placed inside the bone. “By performing surgery on both extremities she was able to use them immediately for weight bearing and mobilize with therapy, which allowed for earlier recovery and helps prevent complications of lying in bed for extended periods of time,” Dr. Prasarn said.

After being discharged from Memorial Hermann–TMC, Tobia was admitted into TIRR Memorial Hermann where she underwent extensive rehabilitation under the care of Dr. Sunil Kothari, Medical Director of the Disorders of Consciousness Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann.

Moving on After Her Accident

“When Sierra was admitted to TIRR Memorial Hermann, it was important for her to immediately begin her rehabilitation treatment so that she could start to regain strength and mobility as well as address the unique needs of the brain injuries she sustained in her collision,” Dr. Kothari said.

She spent nearly two months in rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann and completed additional rehabilitation at a facility near her hometown.

Tobia has since become a champion among her family and friends to reduce their distractions while driving. “Whenever I get in the car with someone, I’m more mindful of their behavior as well as mine when I’m driving,” Tobia said. “The value of the time and sacrifice you will have to make if you’re in an accident far exceeds whatever you feel you must do in that moment.”

She advises drivers to pull over to a safe space if they need to send a text message or make an urgent call or if they are feeling drowsy. “I was trying to get to work and hoping to not be a few minutes late and instead I was four months late returning to work; it’s not worth it,” Tobia said.

To learn more about the Memorial Hermann Driving Change Campaign and take the Driving Change Pledge where you will receive 750 points when you download SAFE 2 SAVE, visit http://www.memorialhermann.org/drivingchange/.

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Ali Vise